My mother of 63 years was diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago. Because of this and the fact that it can also happen to me, this subject is very close to my heart.
Symptoms of Breast Cancer.
My mother had no other symptoms except for the lump she felt in her right breast. It sounds strange, but she was lucky to feel a lump because some lumps are too small to feel or to cause a change in a breast. This is the dangerous part, not fighting breast cancer in time before it can do irreversible harm to your body.
The first sign of breast cancer is normally a lump that was not there before or a mass in the breast that you or your doctor can feel. Unfortunately a lump that is painless, hard and has uneven edges is more likely to be cancer. Also keep in mind that these changes to a breast can also be less serious and not cancerous like an infection or a cyst.
This is why it is very important for a woman to go for a mammogram (x-ray of the breast) once a year, especially after the age of 40 years. Any abnormal area can be seen on a mammogram
The following are also symptoms of breast cancer.
- Breast pain
- Nipple pain or the nipple turning inward
- The nipple discharging other fluids than breast milk
- Redness or thickening of the nipple or breast skin
- A lump in the underarm area
- Swelling of all or part of the breast
- Skin irritation or dimpling on the breast
What causes breast cancer?
After a lot of research and research still under way, it is still very difficult for doctors to determine the cause of breast cancer and how to prevent it. Why it happens to one woman and not the other.
Doctors are learning day by day how external and internal environments affect breast cancer.
External environment for example the water you drink and food you eat, the air you breathe, the medicines you take and whether you smoke or not.
Internal environment for example the genes you got from your parents, hormones and illnesses.
Whether external or internal, some of these factors have a direct effect on breast cancer.
Let met explain to you two factors that are commonly used when referring to or talking about breast cancer.
Firstly the risk factor: Anything that would increase your chance of getting breast cancer, is known as the risk factor.
The protective factor: Anything that could reduce your risk of getting breast cancer, is known as the protective factor.
How can I reduce my risk of getting breast cancer?
Some risk factors you can control, for example:
Ø Being overweight. It is very important to loose the excess weight. This can reduce your risk of getting breast cancer, especially for woman after menopause. Why? Because fatty tissue is the body’s main source of estrogen after menopause. This happens after the ovaries stop producing hormones. Always remember higher estrogen levels, increases your risk of getting breast cancer.
Ø Make your own informed choices about the medicines you take. Always do research, educate yourself about the side effects.
Ø Have control over your physical activities and alcohol consumption. Alcohol drunk by women limit’s the liver’s ability to control blood levels for the hormone estrogen, which can increase the risk of cancer.
Ø Do exercise. There is growing evidence that shows that exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Ø Taking combined hormone replacement therapy namely estrogen and progesterone for several years or taking estrogen alone for an ongoing period of ten years without any doubt is a very high risk factor for breast cancer, because the female hormone, estrogen already stimulates breast cell growth.
Ø Be careful when using oral contraceptives for an unlimited time. Studies show that this birth control pill slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.
Which risk factors do I have no control over?
Ø Being a woman. Although breast cancer can also be present in men, the breast cells of women are always changing and growing because of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Ø Aging. From the age of 30-39 the risk of getting breast cancer is 43%.It increases by more that 4% after the age of 60 years of age.
Ø Breast cancer history in your family. If your mother or sister had breast cancer or ovarian cancer before the age of 50 years, your risk of getting breast cancer is higher.
Ø Radiation therapy to the chest. Any radiation therapy during childhood especially during the teen years when the breasts were still developing, increases the breast cancer risk.
Ø Changes in breast cells, during a breast biopsy can be a risk factor. Biopsy is the removal of tissue for examination under a microscope.
The fear of breast cancer recurrence!
My mom will be finishing her cancer hormone treatment this year. Since she was diagnosed with breast cancer 4 years ago, she has been going for mammogram’s yearly as well as blood tests. All this tests needs to be done to make sure that the breast cancer will not be coming back and if so, to get the necessary treatment in time.
This is a fear my mom has been living with since the day she got informed that she had breast cancer and even after she had her mastectomy and was cleared, she still has this fear of the cancer recurring.
If breast cancer comes back, it may come back in the same place or in different areas of the body, for example:
v the chest wall
v the liver
v the brain
v the lymph modes
v the bones
v the lungs or around the lungs
v the breast or the area where the breast used to be.
Just to get more scientific, here’s a list of the 3 general locations. This is the words that a doctor will use when explaining your type of breast cancer recurring:
Local: meaning in the breast where it started the first time, the area where the breast used to be or in the skin and underlying tissues.
Regional: means in the lymph nodes next to the breast. After diagnosed with breast cancer this will also be the first place where tests will be done to establish whether the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes under the arms.
Metastatic: meaning in another part of the body, like the lungs, liver etc.
How to cope with the fear or recurring breast cancer.
Ø Always stay informed, keep on reading, investigate tests, procedures and treatments done and following up information regarding breast cancer. The more informed you are, I think, will somewhat undermine your fear.
Ø Have a great relationship with your doctor. You must feel comfortable discussing your situation and your feelings with this doctor whenever your feel like it.
Ø Always, always stay calm and positive, even if it is difficult to do so every day. You will without knowing it transform your positive thoughts into positive energy. Trust me, you will feel better.
Ø Join a cancer group that knows how you are feeling. In this group you can exchange stories and find solutions. Nobody else will know exactly how you feel, except for that other person that has gone through the same trauma.